Friday, February 23, 2018

Detective work

The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is that our God does not remain hidden and distant, but reveals himself in His Son, and comes to dwell among us.  The life and ministry of the Lord presents a series of encounters in which Jesus, God, engages people, revealing something of Himself, and revealing something about them.  Each encounter is an invitation, but to what?  Conversion.  Turn toward Him; change your life, leave something behind, move toward Him.
After Mass today, what say we take a tour?  Let’s visit our “comfort stations” – no, not the old euphemism for rest rooms, but rather the little places we all have where we touch down when we need a break, when we are anxious, agitated, under stress, or just plain bored.
First off, on the way home, how about the car stereo?  Is it on whenever we are in the vehicle, providing distraction and entertainment?
Then let’s go home.    Do you have a favorite chair?  What do you use it for – watching the TV or a DVD, maybe reading your favorite magazine or catalog?  How many things are there in that entertainment center?  And over there in the office, the computer:  does it have games?   The endless parade of the internet?
Ooh, look:  right there next to the computer – the credit card bill.  Let’s look that over!  Urgh.   Beyond the car repairs and school shoes for the kids (and maybe the tuition?), how many of those purchases were impulse buys?  How many for our amusement or distraction, or just indulgences, to feed our vanity or to pamper ourselves?  How many reflect shopping trips, just for shopping’s sake?
On to the kitchen.  Where are the snacks?  What’s in the fridge?  Where do we reach, so we have something to gnaw on or sip, when something is gnawing at us?  Cookie jar?  Candy stash?  Anything we keep where the kids…or anyone else…won’t find it?
Okay, so maybe this tour is a far cry from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”  But we can be amazed at how many “crutches” we have methodically built into our day, and come to depend on. Sweep them aside, and find that you can get along just fine without them – if we replace them by leaning instead on the Lord.  He will not let us down!  Our lives will be filled with joy, not stuff.  So what say that this Lent we rearrange things a little? 
Let’s take that favorite chair.  Let’s leave it for one in a quieter part of the house, and make it one we won’t fall asleep in.  Can you see the crucifix from there?  Good.  Then let’s put our Lenten reading next to it – Sacred Scripture, of course, and maybe something else too, like the biography of a saint or a novel by a good Catholic author.   Maybe some poetry, or other spiritual reading. Then, rearrange the plan for the day so that we get a nice chunk of time in that chair, every day. How about that rosary?  Is it nearby?   If it’s not here, it should be in the car, to make good use of our commute for a change.
Then let’s take all that entertainment.  How much of that it just makes us want more stuff anyway?  Turn away from that stimulus to acquire, and we won’t find ourselves craving things we never needed before.  So, no more window-shopping in shops or online or clicking on those ads the algorithms have targeted at us, much less magazines or catalogs.  Let’s see how many machines we can leave switched “off” for all of Lent. 
Now the hard part.  Stay out of the kitchen, and empty out all those secret stashes of goodies.  Nope – don’t head off to Starbuck’s, either.  If we can just stop jamming things into our mouths at every whipstitch, we might realize what it is we are truly hungry for:  God.  And He so desires to fill us!
And let’s not forget the other part – almsgiving.  All that money we are not spending on ourselves and our amusement is not just for our own later use.  Let’s give it to someone who needs it, shall we? 
Lent.  It’s not just about chocolate anymore; in fact it never was. 

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Both and

Cradle Catholic, or convert?  It’s another one of those false binaries that work their way into our understandings; either-this-or-that, dividing people into two groups, one or the other.  Both confer a lasting status, which may or may not reflect anything about the person’s current reality.
One of my favorite activities is working with the people who are interested in entering the Communion of the Catholic Church.  Early on, I introduce them to the concept that conversion is not a process which one must undergo to emerge a Christian, done, like a biscuit out the oven.  Thus, the designation “a convert” does not really work; it gives the impression of a finished product.  Conversion, rather, is the defining characteristic of the Christian life.
Conversion means a turning (version) toward or with (con-).  Toward what or whom is one turning?  The answer is clearly Jesus, God.  A turning away is implicit in the action as well:  from what, or whom?  Away from false gods, from selfishness, from sin.  Turning toward life, turning away from death.  Turning toward truth; turning away from falsehood, from lies, and from facades. 
The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is that our God does not remain hidden and distant, but reveals himself in His Son, and comes to dwell among us.  The life and ministry of the Lord presents a series of encounters in which Jesus, God, engages people, revealing something of Himself, and revealing something about them.  Each encounter is an invitation, but to what?  Conversion.  Turn toward Him; change your life, leave something behind, move toward Him.
Those who respond, those who follow, those who convert most fully and dramatically – are they done?  Look at the lives of the Apostles and the answer is clearly No.  Their change has only begun.  Because they turn, because they follow, they will again and again experience the invitation, face the challenge, and have the opportunity to turn toward the Lord and away from something to which they clung.  Conversion is a continuing disposition, not a once-and-done effort.
This season, Lent, the Church announces to the world that she is made up entirely of sinners in need of conversion.  The Church announces this to me and to you, reminding us what are the conditions for eligibility for membership in her body.  If we do not acknowledge ourselves as sinners in need of conversion, then membership has nothing to offer us. 
If we were not capable of conversion, if we did not have the capacity to change, and for God by His grace to change us, the Church would simply be a mutually congratulatory society celebrating one another’s unique specialness: oh, look how God made you!  But as wonderfully as God created man, He even more marvelously re-creates us, through Christ our Lord, by His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  This mystery, the mystery of Christ’s passing-over from death into life, and our own passing over, is our hope and our goal. 
To reach this goal, for God to fulfill our hope, requires our participation, our preparation.  We must look up from what preoccupies us, look away from our own desires and needs and preferences, and look for Him Who comes.  Yes Lord, I do believe; please help my unbelief!  Mk 9:24   He will do so much for us, if only we can move ourselves to turn, turn toward Him, turn to hear Him, turn to recognize Him; turn to ask for mercy, turn to receive mercy; turn to follow Him, turn to live with Him.  The constant call to conversion is also the call to holiness.
False dichotomies are dangerous when they hide from us the reality that two things are not mutually exclusive, but in fact go together.  Both cradle Catholics and those who have converted in the past stand in need of conversion.  Thank God there’s Lent!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 10, 2018

It's all in the name

You know how I am about anniversaries.  Well, this weekend has a big one: Sunday is the 160th anniversary of the first apparition at Lourdes of Our Lady to Saint Bernadette Soubirous, our parish patroness.  For as often as we use those names, not everyone is familiar with what happened in that village at the foot of the Pyrenees for the first time on this very date.  So here is a refresher:
The apparitions at Lourdes took place only four years after the solemn proclamation by Pope Pius IX in 1854 of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and given their nature it is only natural to see a strong link between the two.
On Thursday, 11 February 1858, fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw a beautiful young girl in a niche at a rocky outcrop called Massabielle, about a half mile outside the town.  She was near a wild rose bush and surrounded by a brilliant light and a golden cloud, smiling, with her arms extended towards Bernadette, who took out her rosary beads.
When she had finished praying the rosary, the apparition beckoned to Bernadette, but she did not move and the girl smiled at her before disappearing.   She later described how she had seen a young girl of about her own age and height, clothed in a brilliant and unearthly white robe, with a blue girdle around her waist and a white veil on her head.
This was the beginning of a whole sequence of apparitions, eighteen in all, which occurred during the spring and early summer of 1858.  Mary first spoke to Bernadette on 18 February when she asked her if she would come to the grotto for a fortnight.  Thursday, 25 February, saw a crowd of about three hundred, and the discovery that was to make Lourdes famous, that of the miraculous spring in the grotto.
During subsequent apparitions, Mary asked for a chapel and processions; but Fr Peyramale, the local parish priest, insisted that the Lady would have to reveal her name before anything could be done about such matters.  Early on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette again made her way to the grotto, where the beautiful Lady was already waiting for her.  Bernadette asked the Lady her name, and after joining her hands at the breast and looking up to heaven she said, I am the Immaculate Conception.
Bernadette hurried off toward the presbytery, repeating the Lady's strange words, so as not to forget them.  She met Fr. Peyramale and left him dumbfounded with the words "I am the Immaculate Conception”; he realized that the Lady had indeed answered his request for her name.  Although the message of Lourdes was now complete, Bernadette again saw Mary on the Wednesday after Easter, April 7, remaining in an ecstasy for about three quarters of an hour.
Bernadette was able to receive her First Holy Communion on the feast of Corpus Christi, and significantly she saw Mary for the last time from outside the grotto, on 16 July, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The local bishop, Bishop Laurence, on July 28 set up a Canonical Commission to investigate the apparitions and their cause.  This body first interviewed Bernadette in mid-November, and was impressed by her testimony and by a growing number of cures.  It was not until January 1862, nearly four years after the apparitions, that the bishop delivered his verdict on Lourdes in a Pastoral letter, a verdict that silenced those hostile to Bernadette:
We adjudge that the Immaculate Mary, Mother of God, really appeared to Bernadette Soubirous on February 11th, 1858, and subsequent days, eighteen times in all, in the Grotto of Massabielle, near the town of Lourdes: that this apparition possesses all the marks of truth, and that the faithful are justified in believing it certain. We humbly submit our judgement to the judgement of the Supreme Pontiff to whom is committed the Government of the whole Church.

Monsignor Smith